June 10, 2011
by Diana Furchtgott-Roth
Meet 18-year-old Josh Coyne, a brilliant African American musician who will graduate on Monday from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md.
Josh plays violin, viola, saxophone and piano. He composed the score for "Anne & Emmett," an acclaimed play written by Janet Langhart Cohen. He conducted the premiere of his ballet "True Love," and was selected by Bethesda (Md.) Magazine as one of 10 winners of its annual Extraordinary Teen Awards.
Josh has played his violin for Vice President Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder, and a documentary is being filmed about him called "Prodigy."
Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen wrote in a recommendation, "I believe that Joshua is one of the great young talents of America, and has a future that is unlimited in scope and depth."
One might think that Josh has every opportunity open before him.
But Josh faces the problem of thousands of other young Americans: His single mother, Jane Coyne (who adopted him at age 2), doesn't earn enough at her job with the National PTA to send him to college.
Josh has been admitted to one of America's leading conservatories, the Manhattan School of Music. It's a four-year program, where he's one of only two entering students admitted to major in composition.
Josh has been given a scholarship from the conservatory covering $25,000 of the $53,000 in annual fees. The federal Pell grant, the work-study program, two kinds of Stafford loans, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and the Perkins loan bring in another $11,800.
However, Josh's acceptance letter states that the conservatory expects his family to use the U.S. Department of Education's Direct Parent Plus loan to pay for the remaining $16,000.
It turns out that Ms. Coyne doesn't earn enough to borrow through Direct Parent Plus because the program requires that repayments start immediately.
In short, parents with low incomes aren't eligible for this type of government loan, confirmed a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.
Debra Kinzler, director of public relations for the conservatory, told me, "He's a promising student, and he's going to be a wonderful addition. It's up to the parent to find the extra money." Another option is a private loan from a bank. But, as the student loan provider Sallie Mae explains on its Web site, "If you're a student with little or no credit history, it may be difficult for you to qualify for a loan without a creditworthy co-signer."
And if your parent has a low income, she may not be eligible to co-sign.
This is the dilemma facing Josh and other young Americans like him. Colleges expect them to borrow, but families don't earn enough to borrow under federal or private programs.
If the families earned more, they could borrow from Parent Plus (or co-sign their kids' loan applications), money that students could repay later. The unpleasant truth is that the Education Department is subsidizing loans not for the lowest-income parents, but for the middle and upper classes.
Josh would prefer to earn money rather than borrow. He'd like to perform at corporate events, compose, and play at fundraisers. He has already raised thousands of dollars for Haiti earthquake relief efforts and for arts education scholarships for at-risk youth.
This Sunday some of Josh's buddies will play at a fundraiser for him to try to meet the first tuition payment, due July 24.
Want to help? If you'd like Josh to perform at an event or compose a piece of music, or if you'd like to contribute to his tax-deductible scholarship fund through the Manhattan School of Music, he may be contacted at email@example.com.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor, was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute from 2005 to 2011.
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